The Bombay high court has acquitted a 40-year-old labourer convicted of raping and murdering a minor, on the ground that suspicion cannot substitute proof.
A sessions court had held the man, Sudam Ranmale, guilty for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in 2010.
Judges BR Gavai and CV Bhadang of the Aurangabad bench said, "We do not find that the evidence as to the last seen theory put forth can be said to be proved as circumstance against the appellant (Ranmale)."
"In the result, we find that the prosecution has failed to establish the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. It is trite that suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof."
Additional public prosecutor MK Pathan said there was a dispute between the child's father and Ranmale over a groom for Ranmale's daughter.
The prosecution stated that on March 3, 2010, the girl went to school. The classes are from 7am to 11am, but when she did not return till late afternoon the parents went to enquire at the school.
The teacher informed them that a man had come to collect her at 9.30am. He described the person who took the girl. When the parents subsequently showed the teacher a photograph of Ranmale he confirmed he was the one who took the girl.
Ranmale was nabbed at the railway station a few days later. On being questioned by the police he said he had handed over the girl to his friend Ashok Jadhav. Jadhav was not found at home.
The girl's body was found in a well in a neighbouring field on April 3, 2010.
Defence advocate SP Kulkarni argued that the circumstances as sought to be proved were not sufficient to prove guilt.
Raising a doubt over the teacher's testimony, the advocate asked how the teacher let the girl go from the school premises with an unfamiliar person.
The teacher responded saying that the girl spoke to the person for a long time before leaving, so he assumed that they knew each other.
Also, other witnesses were relatives of the girl and they mainly raised suspicions, which could not take be taken as proof.
The judges observed that in the case of circumstantial evidence the prosecution was obligated to prove various circumstances to complete the chain of events.